Tuesday, 20 October 2009
St Margaret's chapel and Magdalene Almshouses, Glastonbury
In the small market town of Glastonbury, there are a surprising number of things to see and visit. One of these is an old Medieval chapel and Tudor almshouses.
The current chapel was built in 1444, though the site appears to pre-date that. Queen Margaret of Scotland set up a number of hospitals in England. Most of them seem to have been dedicated to Mary Magdalene. She is the patron saint of lepers [amongst other things]. It's likely that men coming back from the Crusades with unknown diseases and conditions that were either leprosy or similar would be looked after in places like this one in Glastonbury. The monks from the nearby Abbey looked after 13 ill or destitute men at the Magdalene hospital until the dissolution of the monasteries under Henry VIII. After that, the two rows of individual Almshouses were constructed and housed ten men. The site has a Christian foundation, but it is of the sort of spirit which welcomes all.
In 1993, a new ecumenical group of Christians came together to make a Celtic style Community,after the model of places like Iona. The centre point of the day was open and welcoming prayers for about 20 minutes at 12 o'clock. We took on the WWII silent minute which Churchill initiated [inspired by Glastonian Wellesley Tudor Pole, http://wellesleytudorpole.com/] and held a minute's silence for peace at the start of each service. I enjoyed going; because it gave me an oasis of silence and quiet in the middle of the day, got me out of the house, got me away from 'me' and there was fellowship afterwards. I became part of the community formally a little later in 1993.
I learned a lot; how to create and 'hold' sacred space, how to plan services, practised conflict resolution, worked in and with community, learned deep listening, met people of most faiths [and none], heard stories of journeys of faith, worked on improving community relations [with each other and the wider world]. It was - although I didn't realise it at the time! - a perfect nursery preparing me for the Interfaith seminary and ordination.
I still lead prayers as often as I can. Just last week we had the entire first year of a local school through the doors to learn about the history of the site and to get a taste of prayer and especially silence. People from all over the world find this little chapel. Some stay for five minutes, some for longer. They sit, kneel, stand or even lie down in the chapel. Some light a candle or leave a written prayer; some light incense. It is a haven for people to put aside the world and find stillness, however that is for them. I have been privileged and deeply touched to read some of the testimonies of some who write of finding solace, or re-connection with the God of their understanding, or healing [or all three!]. All that we do is provide the space as often as we can. Indeed, volunteers sympathetic to Christianity are always welcome to open the site to the public. I look forward to the future of this site with hope!